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The offensive/spam flags in chat are shown to every moderator from a parent site (on chat.stackexchange.com that is every SE 2.0 moderator, more than 200 right now) and 10k chat users as well. This is potentially far more users than a flag on an SE site itself is shown to.

I don't think it is necessary to show the flag to so many users at once. This can lead to the impressive sight of an entire horde of moderators descending onto one chat room when some flagging is going on, but it often notifies far more people than necessary to act.

Another huge disadvantage of notifying so many users at once is that only the fastest users to act decide on the fate of the flag. If you read up on the context of the flagged message, odds are that by the time you're finished with that someone already validated or dismissed the flag. This leads to hasty decisions on those flags because the users that take their time won't get to decide on the flag.

I propose that the chat flags are first shown only to mods and users in the same chat room, if there are enough users present that the flag could be acted on (so either one moderator or six 10k+ users). If they don't act after a short while or not enough privileged users are present in the room, the flag should be escalated to the mods and users of the parent site. If those users don't act on the flag, it be shown to all moderators and users on Chat.SE.

The exact delay should be just long enough to allow present and active users to handle the flag. Given the high speed that flags are currently handled in many cases, 30-60 seconds might be enough. Though looking at some hard data on flag handling times might be a better way to come up with a useful length.

It might also be useful to increase the number of users that see the flag incrementally even at the stage where all 10k users and moderators are notified. You don't need all of them, and the wide exposure has negative aspects as well.

The advantages would be:

  • Not bothering users that are not needed to come to a quick decision
  • Allows local differences in chat culture to be policed more consistently
  • Higher chance of showing the flag to users that already know the context

But there is also a danger to this, if flags are handled locally and nobody outside the room can see them, the potential for abuse is much higher. This could allow a chat room to develop a very hostile culture, and just flag away anyone that complains, or just dismiss valid flags.

There should be an obvious way for a user to involve moderators from outside the chat room. This could be the "flag for a moderator" option, they would remain global by default and ignore the escalation system. That would also need some UI work as this option is currently rather well hidden and I suspect that many chat users don't even know that there are two types of flags.

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One thing about this: it would need to make sure the person is actually there. A lot of people are forever on chat, but AFK a lot. –  John Dec 15 '11 at 20:28
@Bob That's why there should also be a timed escalation, if nobody checks the flag after 5 minutes it's just escalated to the broader range of users and mods. Determining if someone is really unavailable, or just has the chat in a tab open and is ready to act is probably impossible. –  Mad Scientist Dec 15 '11 at 20:31
Good point. And I guess it wouldn't matter much if it sits there for five minutes anyway considering no one sees it. –  John Dec 15 '11 at 20:33
linked to: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/112691/… –  RobM Mar 1 '12 at 12:23
But some of us enjoy mod parties ... –  C. Ross Apr 17 '13 at 15:32

2 Answers 2

up vote 48 down vote

I'm definitely in favor of this. Always have been, but particularly after today's chatpocalypse on SF.

Two caveats/enhancements I'd like to suggest:

  1. A high-rep user whose post is flagged should not be able to act on their own flags.
    (I'd be surprised if this wasn't already part of the system)
  2. When a post is flagged it should get a visible flag in the chat.
    (Something to notify people that - hey - this got flagged. Someone was upset by it. This will go a long way toward peer/community enforcement by simply raising awareness of flags.)

Edited to add a third enhancement: Make it a three-tiered escalation system:

  • Immediately to all the 10ks for the room's site
    • 5 minutes: All the 10Ks online.
    • 10 minutes: All the mods and 10Ks online

Swap roles above as seems sensible, maybe to blues first and then all 10Ks if they're too busy.
Honestly if a flag hangs around more than 5 minutes (and there are users around) it's probably really questionable.

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Both are already implemented, you can't invalidate flags against your own posts and there's a blue mark to the right of flagged messages in chat. –  Mad Scientist Dec 15 '11 at 21:37
@voretaq if you look at my screenshot it's missing decline and approve buttons. Even mods can't act on their own flags! Also, as Fabian says, you can just about see the red indicator in the bottom left. –  user142852 Dec 15 '11 at 21:40
@Fabian: Is that blue marker visible to the poster? –  Bart De Vos Dec 15 '11 at 21:42
@TiZon Not sure, I haven't had any of my posts flagged yet. –  Mad Scientist Dec 15 '11 at 21:43
@fabian AFAIK I've never been flagged, I do vaguely recall the blue marker though from responding to other flags -- as long as it's visible to everyone (including the poster) I'm happy :-). –  voretaq7 Dec 15 '11 at 21:47
Better late than never, but I've had one of my chat messages flagged, and I could see the blue marker, @BartDeVos –  user149432 Aug 30 '12 at 17:26
The only problem I see with hiding the flags from users outside of the room for 5 minutes is that 6 10k chat users can easily override any and all chat flags in 5 minutes. Very easily. It kinda ruins the entire point of showing them. –  ɥʇǝS May 26 '14 at 19:18

This can lead to the impressive sight of an entire horde of moderators...

Yes it can, however, there is a quick workaround we can use to avoid this for the moment.

enter image description here

The link I have highlighted there takes you to the transcript, not the chat room. This allows you to nosey on what's going on without appearing en masse in the room itself. At this point, you can see some of the context and if the message is horrendously obscene you can hit the delete button and/or act on the flag as appropriate. Otherwise you can leave it to the mods of that site, or their 10ks.

I do this personally to avoid entering the room and so creating the motorway accident effect - where everyone slows down to look.

However, I recommend this as a kind-of workaround to the en-masse-room-entering-problem only. I think, really, we probably need some curtailing of the flag visibility, otherwise some of the 200+ mods are going to load the room itself.

I apologise to the 230 mods who had to put up with this flag so I could obtain this screenshot. Also, the word my freehand circles has obscured is bugging, as in "annoying". Just so we're clear....

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This appears to be a rare example of a post from a deleted account where one can still tell who the OP was. –  E.P. Aug 30 '13 at 22:16

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